As head of the New Jersey Hospital Association, Betsy Ryan takes a modest view of her own efforts to reduce infant mortality rates, birth defects and premature births.
Recently, she received the March of Dimes’ Visionary Award for the research and improvements in early childhood health she has championed in her role as president and CEO of the NJHA. “The award I got was really recognition of work done by a few people at NJHA and our members,” Ryan said.
Ryan has also worked to implement The Affordable Care Act, which broadens the availability of health insurance to many people who previously could not afford it; combat the rise of infections powerfully resistant to current forms of treatment; and reduce the cost of hospital care in response to increasing pressure from the government and insurance industry.
With the March of Dimes’ focus on the prevention and treatment of childhood disease and the Affordable Care Act providing health insurance to a greater population, more people will be able to receive regular checkups and care which would in turn prevent the spread and severity of illness. Ryan’s award emphasizes the NJHA’s support of these efforts and commitment to help implement the Affordable Care Act throughout the state, she said.
A different program that the NJHA has been involved with has been the Partnership for Patients, an initiative by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve the quality, safety and affordability of health care in the United States. “We were lucky enough to be selected by Medicare and Medicaid Services for Partnership for Patients,” said Ryan. The program has two main goals: One is to keep patients from getting injured or sicker, and the other is to help patients to heal without complications that prolong their time under a doctor’s care.
The Partnership program aims to reduce hospital acquired infections by 40 percent and reduce re-admissions by 20 percent compared to 2010 levels. The Partnership program at the NJHA was granted a one-year extension last year owing to the quality of their work with the hospitals of New Jersey and related improvements in care, Ryan said. However, with the NJHA’s Partnership contract coming to an end and with health care through the Affordable Care Act increasing in popularity and strength, Ryan and her team are now putting greater emphasis on hospital cost and quality of care.
For example, Ryan explained that some choices physicians make, such as choosing a more expensive hip replacement over the lower-cost option when both are of the same high quality, could cause unnecessarily high expenditures. “The key is to provide quality health care in a low-cost setting,” Ryan said.
Another way the NJHA plans on reducing costs is to minimize premature births and caesarian sections and other types of pregnancy problems. “Things we are doing are ensuring that when the patient leaves they know the plan for follow-up care,” said Ryan. For example, treatment specialists are working to make sure that patients obtain their prescriptions and attend required doctor’s appointments.
Another important thing that the NJHA must focus on re-admission rates, Ryan said. Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals may be penalized if patients are frequently re-admitted within 30 days of original treatment; even if it is not to the same hospital they first received treatment. “In terms of re-admissions, that’s a tough one for us and we’re working on it,” said Ryan.
Ryan said she believes that with more people receiving insurance the number of people who opt for better health care will rise, which will in turn help improve the quality of care given to more people. “I think it is early on in the evolution of the implementation of the health care act, but I think giving more people insurance is the right thing to do,” Ryan said.
In her future work with the NJHA, she plans to address such issues as maternal hemorrhaging during delivery, maternal-fetal harm and breast feeding rates. Ryan, a Florence resident, stepped into her post at NJHA in 2008. Her previous roles have included a law practice in Burlington County, assistant counsel under former Democratic Gov. Jim Florio, and chief of staff of the state Department of Health.